Panther boys water polo sits at 2nd in EYL

Porterville heads into second round of league games in second place

PORTERVILLE – It’s been four years since the Porterville Panthers added an East Yosemite League (EYL) trophy to their collection, but they are in striking distance of another. With three league games left on the schedule, the Panthers control their own destiny to at least earn a share of the league title by winning all three matchups.

In their first season under head coach Tristan Cardoza, Porterville is having the most success since their most recent league title in 2014. Sitting at 16-7, they have already tied the third most wins in a season over the last 12 years, with three more games plus playoffs to go.

Successful teams generally don’t rely heavily on the talents of one or two players and the same is true for the Panthers. They have their obvious stars of junior Jake Kroutil and senior Ethan Merritt who are leading the team in goals scored, but other teams are working diligently to keep ball out of the hands of those two. As a result, other players have stepped up which Cardoza deems as the key to their success this season.

“That’s really a positive thing for our team. When you have teams that know who your star players are, they turn around and say ‘hey we’re going to make you beat us with those other guys’ well that’s what our other guys are doing. Our secondary guys are stepping up and making the difference in the game,” Cardoza said.

The head coach pointed to two specific players that have stepped up most when needed: Xavier Guttierrez and Chase Fisher. In Monday’s narrow 14-11 win to complete the season sweep over Tulare Western, the duo combined for five goals with four coming in the fourth quarter to halt the Mustang’s late comeback attempt. Those two plus Kroutil and Merritt scored 13 of the team’s 14 points as Kroutil led the way with seven.

The team’s biggest obstacle to a league title is the Garces Memorial Rams. The Panthers lost 22-13 at home last Tuesday to the Rams, despite heading into the second half with a lead. They got in foul trouble late which forced Cardoza to pull some of his key starters, and he deems one sloppy quarter cost them that game.

“We held them to only 13 goals in three quarters and then we got in foul trouble in the fourth quarter which was not good to us,” Cardoza said. “[We have to] play those games to learn what we can do against teams like that. And we never gave up.”

If it were not for the foul trouble, Cardoza is confident his team would have been in the match until the end, which gives them confidence heading into the rematch at Garces Memorial on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. If the Panthers win their next three games and the Rams lose two of three, then the Panthers will be EYL champions. If the Panthers win all three games and the Rams lose one of three, the two teams will share the title.

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